Seven Wonders Mystery: Upside-Down Drawing, Week 3, Cycle 1

The biggest impediment to drawing is our assumptions. We often miss the actual shape of a thing because we get stuck or intimidated about what we think it should look like.

Why do we have kids draw something upside-down? To help students see only what is actually there, not what they think is there.  Here is my lesson for week 3, upside-down drawing, for Classical Conversations. I did this in cycle 1 for a class of journeymen students (ages 8-10).

Because the point of this exercise is to allow the trick to help us see the truth of the lines and basic shapes, I will take you through this tutorial the way my students do it: with the mystery. If I showed you the drawing now, I’d rob you of the opportunity to see if it works for you AND keep you from the experience students have in this.

Prep #1 at home: Make copies of what you want students to draw.

Problem: returning students know to expect this “trick,” so it’s hard to let the trick work its magic. Some get stubborn and don’t even want to try it upside down. Others will try, but keep craning their heads and bodies to keep seeing the drawing right-side-up, and it all results in really funny drawings that show that the lesson didn’t help the students in the least! (Because they weren’t game for giving it a shot.)

So to try to preserve the intent of the exercise by trying to preserve a mystery, I tape construction paper over part of the drawing. For this exercise, I divided the drawing into two parts by drawing a faint line across the page, in the middle. What my students get is just one section at a time visible, the rest covered by construction paper.

Prep #2: To make this go faster in class, I suggest that you also draw, at home, the lines on the blank sheet of paper the students will draw on. Easiest way: lay the original drawing with its dividing pencil lines on a surface. Lay a blank sheet right next to it. On the blank paper, make a dot right next to the end of the lines on the original drawing. To get the dot on the other side of the blank paper, move the original drawing to the other side, line up again, right next to each other, and draw the dots on the blank paper right next to where the dividing lines begin on the original. Last, take a ruler and connect that pair of dots across the paper. You’ll end up with the blank paper divided exactly as the original drawing. (Students CAN do this with instruction, but I wanted to use the time for drawing.)

Step #1. Pass out the drawing to students, with part covered with construction paper (which is in fact the top of the drawing.) Of course they will try to guess what it is. Some may guess correctly, but I say nothing to affirm or deny.

statue of zeus step 1 001


Step # 2. I ask students to trace the basic shapes (and the simple geometric shapes they compose) they see directly onto the paper, as I instructed in the OiLs lesson 1. I used a colored marker to make this more visible to students at a distance. This is fast and loose–not painstaking and exact. I found a lot of ovals in this and some great, a lot of rectangles lines, and some triangles–even heart shapes! Others may see the shapes differently, and that’s ok.

Do you ever have students who bed, “Oh, please, let me just trace it!” Students sees tracing as far easier. And interestingly, tracing is not without benefit, depending on how it’s done. This step is about tracing–the act of tracing over the basic geometric shapes they find, helps with a few skills: 1) students have to actually pay attention to what they see because they make a decision about what shape they see folded into the complex conglomeration of lines 2) the physical act of tracing multiple times gets their hands to FEEL the size and shape.

statue of zeus step 2 001

#3: On a blank sheet of paper you have handed out, ask the student to transfer their basic shapes to it. Remind them they can measure the sizes of these basic shapes–and measure the size of the blank spaces separating them, the skill we learned last week: King Tut: Mirror Image Drawing Lesson Week 2, Cycle 1.

As they draw, I model this on the board, drawing with a marker on the white board to transfer the basic shapes I traced onto my original. I make a point to show that I draw multiple ovals in one space, until I get the shape right. I don’t bother to erase the lights lines of the “drafts”–that’s for later. This is meant to be done fast and loose, drawing lightly until we’re sure. (I’m sorry I no longer have my drawing of this step…)

#4. Now, I’d remove the construction paper to reveal the bottom of the upside-down drawing.

statue of Zeus step 5 001

The fun part is hearing if students are surprised that what they were drawing were feet on a stool. (I admit, drawing feet is a thing of mine–people often say they’re so hard to draw, and I like students to meet feet in unusual perspectives, upside-down, because for many, that’s the only way they’ll ever notice the unusual shapes that actually are formed by toes, arches and ankles. These resemble lumpy potatoes!

Step #5. As you may guess, the next step is to trace basic geometric shapes we see on the original’s other half.

Now here I stop and confess: I don’t have any more examples to show of my next steps. I can share them but not demonstrate them (though they are repeats of the above process)–because I never did them.  I planned this for my journeymen class, but this one lesson proved to be too demanding–at least for the time we had. This is all the farther most of the class got.

And I’d tried to break it down–really I did! See below: the original drawing I found online, then my simplified outline I had kids draw:


I wanted to break down the image to the most essential parts. I then planned to do it in layers: once a student did the above, I’d give them another sheet with the details added on–because details should be last. (And if they cannot even see the details at the beginning, they cannot be distracted by them.) Below you can see the details.

statue of Zeus details 001

I think one student completed most of the upside-down drawing of the simplified version above and then asked for the details to take home.

This detail-stage is where we can add sandals, swirly designs, facial features, angel wings, etc. These details make the image of the Statue of Zeus, one of the Seven wonders of the World, come alive.

I wanted to simplify the drawing for students when they approached it, and yet, it was still a bit much for my class of journeymen. I think my previous year’s master’s class would have done well with it–both because they were older but also highly motivated to take on drawing challenges.

So, lesson learned. This was my least successful lesson in 3 years of tutoring. I wasn’t going to share, but then I did, for two reasons: 1) it shows not all lessons succeed the way we think they will, and 2) I think this may be a perfectly good lesson for masters, if not for journeymen.


Other posts:

King Tut: Mirror Image Drawing Lesson Week 2, Cycle 1

Horse Profile: Drawing Lesson 1, Cycle 1

A Late Reader a Gifted Reader?

Eleven Tips for Making/Tweaking the New Homeschool Schedule



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King Tut: Mirror Image Drawing Lesson Week 2, Cycle 1

Ah, the second week of Fine Arts in the Classical Conversations program: Mirror Image! In my first year tutoring, this was a least favorite lesson, but now it’s my favorite and perhaps the most crucial of them all. I didn’t get it at first, but now I do: the goal is to teach the way a good artist observes space. Week 1 is about shapes, now week 2 is about how much space those shapes take up and how they relate to each other in space. In other words, it’s all about measurement.

My lesson was aimed at students age 8-10 in my Classical Conversations class. For this age group and up, I tend to choose human or animal faces; it’s not only the perfect lesson during which to focus on a face, it’s also the only lesson in my Classical Conversations plan that lends itself to the focus necessary to do a face.

To fit Cycle 1, I chose the image of King Tut  below.  I cut the original in half down the middle for this exercise.

king tut mirrow image original 001

This is a neat lesson that will appeal to those who like to draw for artistic reasons as well as those who find comfort in precision. This project has a bit of both.

Step #1. I pass out the papers with half of Tutankhamen’s face. Just as in lesson 1, I first instruct students to look for the basic shapes they see AND trace those shapes with their pencils. I used a red marker for my example copy so students can see what I did more easily from their seats. But I will not show mine right away unless to a student struggling to comprehend the goal. (I want students to trace the shapes THEY see, not just copy what I see. The whole point in learning to draw is to be able to break complex shapes into simple ones on one’s own.)

You can see my red lines outlining the basic geometric shapes I see: rectangles and triangles, and ovals for the ear.

king tut step 2 002

STEP #2. NEW SKILL! The make-or-break-it skill to reproduce a mirror image is accurately judging space and size. We could leave it to free-handing chance–but there are skills we can master to make this spot-on.

AFTER students have traced the shapes they see on the original, then we talk about them drawing on the blank side. We will measure the spacing of the outer contours of his face and of his headdress and neck. But no rulers needed! Let us use what a have at hands, namely our hands and pencils and erasers. I checked measurements for the widest part of the forehead, for the jawline, for the widest part of the headdress and the narrowest. I measured how wide and long the ear was, etc. Use what works for your to measure. Maybe a distance the length of your first finger’s middle knuckle to the end of your finger is the space from his nose to his ear. Or maybe the length of your pencil eraser to the number “2” stamped on your pencil is the width of the top of his headdress.

I make tiny dots for noting the width of these shapes, then lightly pencil in the shapes–keeping the drawing loose. If my lines are light, I can easily erase them if I need to.

Step #3 To make this rather detailed drawing more approachable, you’ll see I’m now going to repeat instructions with a different focus. Now we’re going to look for basic shapes again–but this time, for the features: the eyes, the nose, the eyebrow, etc. That’s easy. But–also, the cheek. What shape is the cheek? what shapes are in the chin and jaw and forehead? We have to map ALL the spaces! Below, my drawing shows steps 3 and 4, so focus only on the shapes I drew in pencil on the original at this stage.king tut step 3 001

Step #4 Now that we have the facial features traced on the original–in whatever shapes any student sees–we can then start drawing them on the blank side. This is shown above.

Measure how wide the eyeball is. For me, it’s the same as the metal bracket on the end of my pencil. Place a dot on the other side of this measurement for the eye. How much space does the shape you see in his cheek take up? How about the spaces above and below his eyebrow? Measuring with something you have on hand will help get a mirror image that is true.

Repeat these steps for all the other details of his headdress,etc.

Step #5: Now, to finish, I show students how to erase the lines we don’t actually need for the final version: lines to help us properly space out the jaw line and break of the space of the forehead, etc. So erase all the lines that are not his features, and you are left with King Tut. Along with erasing lines you don’t need, bolden the lines you want to keep. While I did not, students could use a marker to more easily make the lines the right thickness/darkness.

king tut step 5 001

When students don’t get this finished within the class time (which is common), I encourage them to finish at home and bring it back in next week. I find this to be very motivational for students. Some students bring it back; others take a picture and have it on a phone to share with the class. I like to encourage them and point out details on each student’s work that showed really good observations. (As a Challenge A tutor, I learned how all this drawing training prepares students for a crucial skill in science: observation. For the first 10 weeks in A, students draw the subject of each science report.)

Enjoy mirror image drawing!

Next up: Seven Wonders Mystery: Upside-Down Drawing, Week 3


Other posts:

Horse Profile: Drawing Lesson 1, Cycle 1

Seven Wonders Mystery: Upside-Down Drawing, Week 3, Cycle 1

Abstract Drawing Lesson, Week 4

Creating an Encouraging Classroom

Eleven Tips for Making/Tweaking the New Homeschool Schedule

A Late Reader a Gifted Reader?

I’m NOT that Crafty Mom





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Horse Head Profile: Drawing Lesson 1, Cycle 1

For the first drawing lesson, we explore the basic shapes. In Classical Conversations, we spend the first six weeks of the Foundations program learning drawing lesson in the Fine Art segment of the class. My lessons were designed for the Masters class (ages 10-11), but the specific class I had last with cycle one were Journeymen–ages 8-10. I aimed to make the subjects of our content fit with the ancient world to match the cycle.

Because I did tutor for every cycle already, and never had the same students twice (except my own son), this week 1 drawing is nearly a repeat of what I did for cycle 2, which you may have seen on this blog. However, experience has taught me, were I to do it again, I’d simplify the project to only the horse head instead of the entire horse body–unless I had a class that needed a challenge.  (I once had a masters class–ages 10-13–that needed the challenge of the centaur from Narnia, but the very next year, different students would have been overwhelmed by that. Hence, I would now focus on the head of the horse, as shown below.)

cc horse step 4 001

Otherwise, my lesson is the same as what is already posted here: Basics of Drawing: Fine Arts, Week 1 for Classical Conversations. Just scale it back to only the head and ignore the rest. (Yes, as a repeat tutor with different students, I didn’t have to start from scratch for new lesson plans each year–but for those of you who’ve already used mine and hoped I would do something entirely different/new, I’m sorry!) Horses are so popular with students, boys and girl, and fit so well with each history cycle, I stick with them!

As I mention in other lesson posts, I love saving the students’ first drawings from this week and then presenting them the opportunity to draw the same thing 6 weeks later. When they are done, I can bring out their first version for comparison. Even I am amazed at what can happen in merely 5 weeks!

Other posts:

King Tut: Mirror Image Drawing Lesson Week 2, Cycle 1

Seven Wonders Mystery: Upside-Down Drawing, Week 3

Abstract Drawing Lesson, Week 4

How I Talk to My Students about Drawing on Day One

How Do You Change a Negative Classroom Atmosphere or Create a Positive One in the First Place?

Six Lessons from Employing Mr. Mom

A Late Reader a Gifted Reader?


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Classroom Management and Motivational Techniques


How do you encourage positive classroom engagement and participation–without having to bring in candy and cheap little gadgets from the Dollar Store? I’m talking about middle school aged kids (and for those in Classical education, that’s the dialectic stage.) This is my favorite age group and over the years, I’ve experimented and tried to figure out what really motivated them. At this ages (10-14) they are unique. Yes, they respond to candy and other behavior modification techniques–but is that best serving them to continue these types of systems? My answer for myself as the leader of their classroom is, no.

But what else do you do? Especially when the students pose challenges–such as demonstrating selfishness, negativity, one-up-man-ship, or not participating?

I wrote before about upper elementary and how my main classroom management tool is leveraging privileges that growing maturity can grant students. Specifically, I set up a system where students in my class were assigned seats when the year began, but they were told how they can earn the privilege to choose their seats and sit by friends. (Creating an Encouraging Classroom. That is the first in a series that gets pretty detailed.)

But what about when they get older and/or they meet that standard and yet you still need something to keep students motivated? Or you need/they need you to up the standard?

This past year, I spent a year leading seminars with students who were 12/13, and because the class was small, the entire seating chart idea fell flat. With so few options for where they could sit, there just were not enough variables for that to be a system that made any sense. I had to start the year with something else altogether.


I credit others in the same position around the country (directing/tutoring Challenge A classes in Classical Conversations, a homeschool group) for the idea of a rubber band jar, which I’ve altered to fit my needs. Students earned rubber bands for “stretching themselves.” I’ve heard other tutors describe this various ways; each tutor can define it how it best fits the class’s needs. And in the system I heard others were using, the goal was to motivate the class to fill the jar with rubber bands, and when it was full, the tutor brought in something as a whole-class treat. I’ve heard of others doing similar things with beans and marbles.

My system is a take-off of those. I still am trying to find ways for their participation and ways of encouraging both their classmates as well as the learning environment to result in increased autonomy, responsibility or privilege for them–not sugar.

(Seriously, people, this battle is real. Forgive this aside (or skip to the next paragraph). I’m trying so hard, for my family and my classrooms, to not revolve around sugar. A personal aside: cutting sugar and things that break down into sugar , i.e. grains, from the diet makes you a different person. I just cannot stand anymore relinquishing to sugar again and again for treats. I want to break that line between sugar and reward every way I can. Because now I know how destructive it is long-term for our kids to hold onto this belief system that’s it’s just a normal part of our diet, and not really bad until you become obese or get diabetes. No, I cannot make this dietary revolution happen in my class, but I have to at least try to live my own convictions by not propagating something I find so distressing–in the immediate atmosphere of my class as the body’s task to process sugar takes away brain power from the kids. [Like I told my staff of Sunday School teachers when I was directing children’s ministry: “If we really believe that what we’re teaching is important, we will want to give them food that sets them up for optimum receptivity to our words/lessons, not give them treats that mean we now have to compete for their attention and energy as sugar takes their brain on a detour..)

OK, forgive me that aside, but that is a deep motivation of mine that was just strengthened greatly this year. Back to motivating students: when students in my class “stretch themselves,” I write their initials on a rubber band. (Buy wide ones!) All the rubber bands they earn are put in a jar/container. Whenever we need to choose a review game–I pull out a rubber band and let that student choose. When it’s presentation time and kids are clamoring: “Can I go first? “Can I go last?” I will pull out a few rubber bands, let those students choose their preferred order, and the rest will go according to my list. Similarly, for our reasoning strand book, I work on students leading discussions and asking questions of their classmates for a section, and I use the rubber bands to determine the order in which which students get to choose their favorite sections to lead. When I have a small enough class that we can fit in the picnic table outside, I let a student choose if we should discuss a book indoors or outdoors. (Though, with my full class this year, I think that privilege will have to be removed!)

I’m looking for more ideas–other ways students can exercise their choice or autonomy. I do find somethings don’t work equally well with every group of students. Here’s a funny problem: I had a class that was small and each persona really learned how to put others first and encourage each other. When I chose a rubber band to determine who picked the review game, the students weren’t willing to exert an preference! They each wanted to pick a game the others agreed on! It was actually really sweet–the person with the privilege to pick took a vote and went with classmates’ preference!  (But that’s  good problem to have! And it’s a good opportunity to discuss each submitting to each other as well as to allow someone else to enjoy a game they really like, even if it’s not what the majority wants. Mutual care–what a tough thing to master!)

If anyone has any classroom privileges that I’ve not thought of, please share!


Other posts:

How Do You Change a Negative Classroom Atmosphere or Create a Positive One in the First Place?

A Late Reader a Gifted Reader?

Latin Clue Game

The Ink They Left On Me: Writers Anne Lamott and Tracy Chevalier


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A Late Reader a Gifted Reader?

Why does our culture think “earlier equals better” or “earlier equals smarter” when it comes to kids reaching milestones?

Do we really think that babies who walk at 10 months are smarter than babies who walk at 14 months? Does a baby’s pace of physical development predict their academic achievement or potential?


Photo by Laurie Wilson via Flickr

I don’t think we really believe that learning to walk earlier predicts intelligence. (Even though there are parents who are very proud to report when their baby does anything earlier than other babies.) I think we’ve all seen, anecdotally, stories that contradict: the very physical, early walking kid at 9 or 10 months old who did not turn out to be a genius, or a child who did not walk until 14 months or later but turned out to have a higher IQ than all his/her earlier-walking siblings. (Research echos this: Child Development: Early Walker or Late walker of No Consequence.)

But because most of us don’t understand brain development, we wrongly tie the age of the onset of reading to intelligence, which is as accurate as assuming an early walker will turn out to be more intelligent.

When it comes to children and the age at which they learn to read, I think our schools , in general, and the average adult, do consider early readers as “smart kids,” and late readers as less intelligent. And let me define here that by “learn to read” I mean phonetic reading, the ability to sound out words–attaching the meaning of a sound to a visual sign or letter–rather than memorizing a group of letters as a word, called sight reading. (The latter can be done at a much younger age than the former because it utilizes only the right hemisphere of the brain, the part that deciphers shape.

(I feel the temptation to digress into a related topic: the battle between phonetic reading instruction versus the sight-reading method. But I’ll make do with a quick mention that when you start teaching kids to read at such a young age/stage of development, sight-reading is the only option. A generation ago, just when the age of reading instruction was brought on a year earlier, the trend to abandon phonetic reading instruction happened–and that’s because it had to. Many knowledgeable of the phonics method denigrated that change, but in defense of schools and teachers given the requirement to teach kids [boys] to read at age 5, they had to adopt different methods than the way kids were taught from Classical times and reached even to the one-room school houses around our country a century ago and more.)

What is astonishing about our society’s labeling late or struggling readers as less intelligent is that the reason behind when kids can begin to learn to read is just as much tied to physical development as is the ability to take the first steps. The age of onset of both are equally non-descriptive and non-predictive of intelligence.

Now that I’ve watched my own three children learn to read, I’ve observed multiple surprises that fly in the face of a lot of common ideas/expectations. The first is the idea that the “late reader” is going to remain behind or is demonstrating a weakness; they must be more of a “math/science” person. Reading is “not their thing, apparently….”

But my one son showed me a very stark contrast to that idea. By public school standards, he’d have been called a late reader. We homeschooled, so the comparison wasn’t necessary. At the start of third grade, he was still ploddingly sounding out words, reading slowly, and experiencing that other kids his age were reading with considerably more ease.


Photo by Ann Fisher via Flickr

His brain’s developmental readiness for the complex tasks of reading did not show itself at the age of 5 when he was expected to start kindergarten, where in our district the goal is to become a reader. (We did not send him for this reason.) His brain did not develop the integration at the age of 6. Or even by his 7th birthday. By 8, he was slow and plodding after nearly two years of pre-reading and reading instruction–then whoosh! Mid-way in his eighth year, it was like a switch was flipped, and he grew in his reading abilities by leaps and bounds!

The following year (age 9), we did a writing program (Institute for Excellence in Writing by Andrew Pudewa) and a sentence-level grammar program on a level that middle school students I taught in school never approached, He thrived!

Now he is a rising 6th grader who is very clearly demonstrating that his strength is everything verbal; reading, writing, etc. His writing blows me away; his facility with words has always been marked (he had an uber vocabulary is a little tyke), and he just completed a standardized test with a perfect score in reading comprehension–and not by guessing. (I later asked him some of the questions and he really knew the answers.) He tests as reading at a grade level many grades above his age group’s.

Early in his 5th grade year, I asked him once to read a historical event summary that was, in my opinion, somewhat dry with complex sentence structures, and not written for a child at all. Really, I’d asked him to read those paragraphs just to bide me time as I was finishing another task. I thought maybe he’d glean a fact or two. I nearly hurt myself with whiplash when he started sharing his summary with me, demonstrating complete understanding of not just what it said but also the cause and effect relationships described in those very complex sentence structures!

I recently encouraged another mother who was talking about her late reading son. I said, “a child’s description as a  struggling or ‘late’ reader is no indication that reading will not be his greatest strength/ability later.” In fact, a late reading child can even prove to be gifted in that area!

How is this possible? Earlier is always better/smarter, right???!

It sounds counter-intuitive. But just like the fact that a child who walks at ten months instead of fourteen months is not smarter than the later walker, the reader who flourishes at the age of 5 is not necessarily ‘smarter’ or harboring a higher IQ or more potential than a child who flourishes at reading at the age of 9.

(Now some other factors can influence a late reader to make it appear that he is less intelligent; say, a boy whom struggled with reading for years in a classroom setting and felt stupid for not being at pace with peers can certainly develop disinterest in reading, give up, and even resort to bad behaviors to deflect attention from their insecurities. These could harm or inhibit achievement in ways that reflect nothing of his potential or intelligence. Books have been written about this; it’s a very real and huge factor in the lives  of many boys.)

But what most people don’t realize is that the complex activity of learning signs for sounds and translating them is tied to physical development. Certain processes in the brain must develop and actual structures must grow in order to facilitate that–and it has nothing to do with intelligence, but everything to do with physiological development.

Another fact that many people don’t realize is that gender influences the order in which portions of the human brain development. To start with, girls and boys hemispheres of the brain, at birth, are not exactly the same. While girls have verbal center in each hemisphere, boys have a single verbal center in only the right hemisphere. As a child grows, differences in how the brain develops continue. As it pertains to reading ability, girls’ brain achieve integration of the two halves by the growth of the joining corpus callosum significantly earlier–an average of two years earlier. Developmentally, a girl can accomplish certain verbal tasks related to reading that many boys will not be able to approach adequately until the age of seven as an average. (But some earlier, some later.) The reverse is also true; certain parts of boys’ brains develop faster/earlier than girls’.

In a world where our educational system and society at large tends to tag children early with labels, “smart,” “struggling,” “behind”, advanced,” and the like are applied rather quickly to children as they begin schooling–in a school system where boys and girls are taught together in the same classes, at the same ages, with the same methods–when nothing about them is the same by gender or by age! The more I learn about brain development, the more I’m amazed we persist in this approach at all. What at all is analogous between the brains of a typically-developing 5 year old girl and a typically-developing 5 year old boy?

Now that I’ve seen the evolution of my eldest son’s reading journey, I’m still in the midst of two more. My daughter wowed me with how easily she approached her first reading tasks–the very same phonics approach and materials her brothers used, but an entire year and a half earlier than I ever tried it with them. She picked it up so quickly, with ease and enjoyment. And although I knew to expect this from all my research, it still surprised me to see how stark the contrast was  between her and her brothers! My younger son’s story is different than his brother’s in some ways, but would be the same in that he too would be considered a late reader.

Even with knowing the success story of my oldest, it’s still really hard to resist our society’s labels and designation of “late reader” being a negative, a lack, a sign and indication of deficiency. My second boy may be like his brother with ninja skills in language in a couple years. Or he may not. And either way, it won’t be because he was a late reader.

I stick to my guns that reading instruction for most boys is best approached at a older age than girls. (But there are always exceptions; some boys’ brain develop way ahead of that typical trajectory.) What really matters is finding out when your child is developmentally ready. (Now, if your child does show the physical signs of readiness but reading instruction is still a huge struggle, do look into possible reading issues such as dyslexia or attention problems that may interfere.) For tips on what to look for to know if a child’s brain has developed the necessary functions for reading instruction, check out information from Susan R. Johnson, a pediatrician and educator, Teaching Our Children to Write, Read and Spell.


Some resources:


Other posts:

Tips for Making/Tweaking the New Homeschool Schedule

Six Lessons from Employing Mr. Mom

How Do You Change a Negative Classroom Atmosphere or Create a Positive One in the First Place?

My Current Step in Publishing: Looking for an Agent


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Large Group Games for Latin Camp, part 3

For Day 3, the same thing inevitably happens every year: I don’t get through everything I planned. Many little things occur I don’t foresee, or many things I plan take a bit longer… But here are the things I actually got to:

Verb Vocab Dance (dance/movement/challenge–call it whatever appeals most to your students! I’ve learned a big portion of appealing to this age group is all in the marketing. What you called it/how you describe it matters!)

Purpose: to help the really abstract endings of the 4 principal parts of verbs to stick! (Because I know they never stuck in my brain well all through Challenge A–until I did this….)

I introduced each verb on my vocab list by asking students if it looked familiar or they could guess the meaning just by knowing English.

I drew students’ attention to the pattern they can see in the list of verbs listed with their 4 principal parts: the endings. I explained we were going to move our bodies differently for each word and for each principal part ending to help them stick in our minds.

I introduced hand motions:

for “o”: I made a big O above my head;

For “are” I made a sign language “r” with my fingers

for “avi” I told this story: someone going up on a roller coaster may be saying, “ah” with anxiety, but when they go down the other side, they say “weeeee!”–so we made the motion with one hand going up then down a roller coaster hill, saying “ah-weee!”

last, for “”atus” I waved my arms up and down like undulating tentacles because the ending makes me think of “octopus.”

After we covered that, I introduced a movement for the stem of each verb. For instance, for pugno, I put up my fists; for laudo, I raised my hands in the air; for explore, I put my hand to my forehead like I was searching. We went though each one, making the movement of the stem followed by the moment for the ending.

After I introduced all that, we went through the list, joining the motions for each verb with the endings for each principal part. This was so good for my scroochy or young students especially–it was so active and required both attention and energy. It actually went over better than I expected, with all the older ones doing it with attention.

And I sure know it worked for me. I have gotten those endings down!!!


Scrambled sentence

Purpose: to practice translating and noticing declension endings to determine Latin noun cases.

At home, make sentences on large cards, one word per card. All nouns are in Latin, but other words are in English. I made enough sentences to give to each group of 4-6 students a sentence.


In class I split students into small groups of 4-6 and asked students to:

a. talk to each other  to determine how to unscramble the sentence and translate it.

b. Using the 6 yellow post-it notes I give them, write these labels on them: SN, V, DO, IO, OP, Poss. Use the 5 other-colored post-its and have them write the Latin noun cases on them: Nom, Gen, Dat, Acc, Abl.

c. put the sticky notes on the word cards.

d. don costumes that fit their words if desired.

(I had my helpers circulate the room to help; the younger students really needed step-by-step help to figure any of this out.)

When the groups were done, I called each up to read their sentence, explain how they knew how to label the words, and translate. (Some groups could explain well; younger groups could not, but that’s ok–I let them report whatever they understood–and they could all figure out translation pretty accurately.)

An older group presented well and they did it for the parent presentation as well later that morning.


Ending Art

Purpose: to get the endings drilled into students’ heads; to have some quiet time, creative time, that some students need.

I didn’t have this on my plans, but I ended up using it. (It was on day 2, once, but I ran out of time. This idea came from lunch time with our practicum speaker, who used it to fill time during standardized testing when she taught school.)

Goal: to draw a picture using the letters of the 1st conjugation present tense endings to create the image. There are two ways to approach this, basically: use the endings of o,s,t,mus,tis,nt as the outline of a form, or use the letters to fill in areas of a drawing. I saw many cool student ideas. Some made bubble letters of their names, and inside each letter, copied the endings, very small. Others wrote the words very small to form the lines of the drawings themselves. One girl drew stick figures in various athletic poses, and their limbs were all strings of these letters: “ostmustisnt.”

I stressed that the main goal was writing the endings in order each time, so that order is what sinks into their brains.


Vocab Charades

Purpose: to review vocab (old or new)

At home, place vocab words on slips of paper.

Ask for volunteers to pull out a word from a hat. They act it out, trying to get students to guess by their antics.

I ran out of time for this, but the good thing about this game is, even if you only do 4 words, it’s a great filler activity for short time spans. I might use this at my next camp as the standard filler for when I have a few minutes waiting for the recess helpers to arrive.


Mime a Verb

Purpose: to practice verb vocab and adding endings of the person doing the action

(Note–My lesson plans ended up changed; I conflated showing how to conjugate with this game, back-to-back. I had planned to show them how to conjugate a verb and then, a few  hours later, play the mime game!)

First, I had to demonstrate this completely. I chose one verb, “laudo,” and wrote its 4 principal parts on the board. I also wrote a blank conjugation chart on the board. I told students there were three steps for us to translate the present tense verbs:

step 1. find the 2nd principal part and circle the ending (while simultaneously defining the stem). I demonstrated circling ARE. I wrote “laud,” the stem, in the spaces of the conjugation chart.

step 2: I asked students what were the endings for present tense verbs. They answered by singing “o, s, t, mus, tis, nt.” I began writing them in the chart, after “laud” but after leaving a space. I got some laughs by asking students to read some of the words as they were: “laudnt,” for instance.

step 3: I explained the missing part–a vowel, explaining that you have to add a certain vowel based on the conjugation. I explained that all verbs we learned that day are 1st conjugation, nicknamed the “a” conjugation because you have to add an a before all endings except for 1st person singular. I had a student add an “a” in all the right places.

Demonstrating how I’d mime, I went through each form in order. For laudo, I simply pretended to praise God.

BUT for the 2nd person, I said I had to hire an actor to help me. I brought up a student and commanded, “Laudas!” I asked the class what that meant, and waited for “You praise.”

For the 3rd person, I said I needed to hire two actors, whispered to them to praise God, and I pointed to their acting and asked the class what they were doing: “They praise; Laudat.” I did this for plural, hiring as many “actors” as needed to have each scenario acted out. (Edit: I actually now remember I used pugnare for this demo–which is great because they love seeing “fight” being acted out, but it also kept all demonstrations of that word firmly under my control! I highly recommend that!)

Starting the Game: I asked volunteers who wanted to be directors in this mime game to choose a slip of paper. The slips of paper had a single verb on it, conjugated for a specific person. The volunteer had to look at the chart and determine what the word meant as well as who and how many people were doing it and hire the appropriate actors. (I highly recommend calling on older students, at least at first. A sweet 9 year old was always so enthusiastic but really didn’t understand; she needed to watch everyone else and then maybe go last.) The director has to quietly instruct actors of their jobs. (Tip: have about 5-6 kids draw a word at a time, that way they had time to think about their word while waiting, saving time between turns.

Then the scene was acted out (maybe exploramus or orant or pugnas…) Then students had to guess what word the director pulled from the bag. This was a hit and could have gone on for far longer. But I did notice that very few students were raising their hands to answer. That’s not necessarily bad. I think it helps review vocab for the younger kids,  even if only the sharpest/most mature could even begin to figure out the personal endings. It might be a great game that allows two levels of learning/review to go on simultaneously. The young ones were thoroughly enjoying it and getting what they could while the older ones were challenged to push their skills.

Latin Mad Libs

Purpose: to review vocab and how to decline and conjugate.

(I never got to this but perhaps I will in my next camp.)

I had some sentences written in y notes and put them on the board in Latin with some strategic blanks. For instance:

____________ (SN/Nom)  sees __________(DO/Gen).

Rex __________________(verb) in the _________________ (OP/Abl)

In each case, I’d ask for Latin words from those volunteering answers. Then I’d ask the class what the word meant and write the translation below. Then we’d talk through the declension ending or conjugation ending to make sure it was correct. When that’s all shored up, I’d ask a student to read and translate the entire sentence all together and wait for the laughs. (I gave my students a folder with all vocab lists in them so for this, maybe having folders out is a good idea, especially for young ones.)

Another idea to liven this up is to have models/actors illustrate each sentence as you go. If someone suggests “Nauta” as the subject, you’d call up a volunteer to be the sailor and put a hat on him/her, etc. For verbs, the noun doing the action would have to strike a pose appropriate for the verb. Somehow this never got old…


Latin telephone

Purpose: repeating/reviewing vocab

Split class into groups of at least 5 students. (Preferably one group per helper.)

Have one team come up and demonstrate this (to avoid 100 questions before you can begin). Give the student at the head of the line a folder with the vocab in it, for reference. (The folder stays at that end of line.) Also, give that student with a small white board and dry erase marker and instruct him to write a word on a board that the teammates cannot see. Then that person turns and whispers the word to the person behind him in the team line. Each teammate thus passes on the whispered word until the end. The last person speaks aloud the heard word, and then the writer holds up the white board to show what he wrote. Students laugh, ha ha, and the team writes down “1” in the corner if the spoken and  written words match. Last, the writer walks to the end of the line, leaving student #2 with the white board and marker to have her turn. Repeat until all students have a turn.

(Note, you could require that each word chosen comes with the translation. Example, writing/saying “natua, sailor.”)

4 Corners

Purpose: to review all new grammar from the 3 days AND get energy out!

I simply told students each areas they can walk to, designating them with numbers/letters. I  asked a question, let all students walk to their corner, then I pulled out an index card designating one corner which has to answer. With each question, students have to move. My saying the question before they move was crucial because they all needed to think of the answer, not knowing if their corner would be called on to answer or not.

This is very popular and gives the students much-loved social interaction. It can get loud, so sometimes and with some classes, it’s just too much to ask in the moment! But in general, it’s a great, simple game and a lot gets reviewed because answering is pretty quick when a group of kids is doing it together.

Latin Clue

Purpose: to review vocab and endings

This is done as my post Latin Clue Game describes. On this last day, their game card (1 per pairing of students) has 4 columns, since I added a verb column using the day’s new vocab. Also, I made the card up really thinking I’d get to teaching both present and perfect tenses, but we never got to perfect. So I just put a note on the board that all verbs ending in “avit” meant past tense, telling the students I’d meant to teach them that but ran out of time.

Just as in day 2, I had the class add student names to the subject noun column and the direct object column–and had to remember to make up the clue cards with those names before pulling out one from each category to be the mystery for the students to guess!

And that’s it–end of day 3!

Other posts:

Large Group Games for Latin Camp

How Do You Change a Negative Classroom Atmosphere or Create a Positive One in the First Place?

Six Lessons from Employing Mr. Mom

My Current Step in Publishing: Finding an Agent



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My Current Step in Publishing: Looking for an Agent

So just last month, I went to a conference for writers, on the search for an agent to help me find a publisher for my novel. Yes, in my world it’s a feat–my husband stayed home with the kids for 3 days! (Six Lessons from Employing Mr. Mom)

I’ve been to conferences over the years, but this was the time it got REAL. I was on a mission, finished novel in tow, to find representation to help get the book out there finally!

For those who haven’t been studying this for years, agents are people who are looking for authors with books they can sell. They get paid only when a deal is made and their pay comes from a percentage of the sale. They’re like realtors, but for books. They represent your interests, try to negotiate better deals–and they have contacts on the inside of the business and can sometimes deliver your book directly to the desk of a publisher who’s craving exactly the kind of book you just wrote.


So how do you find an agent? Well, you could do the equivalent of cold-calling, though more socially accepted but with almost the same results: look up their contact info and send them a letter (query letter) describing your book, to see if they might be interested in reading it.) this is better known as ending up in the “slush pile”–that proverbial place where millions of manuscripts die before seeing the light of day. But a few are picked this way and live on for years on store bookshelves. But the better, more statistically successful way is meeting agents in person, hence going to a conference.

The conference I attended provided each attendee who paid for the 3-day conference 1-2 meetings with agents who traveled from NYC for this purpose.

And you get: 10 minutes. Yes, 10 minutes. No pressure. Just 10 minutes to sell the idea of your book (and show yourself to not be an unreasonable person to work with. DO NOT under-estimate that. This has to be a working relationship; an agent is your first editor in the publishing world, with an interest in making your book better or more marketable, and may suggest significant changes. Will they want to work with your personality? Or do they find your book compelling but prefer seeing you on the other end of a 99 and a half foot pole ala the Grinch? Are you teachable? Cocky? Unrealistic? Unpleasant? Conversely, do you feel comfortable with this personality to want to work with them? But that’s another topic.)

But yes, 10 minutes. That’s all you have.

There are classes you can take to teach you how to not be a stammering, perspiring mass. It’s easy to get in that situation and feel like you’re having an out-of-body experience, watching yourself grasp at straws and ramble on about details of your book as you lose a grip on the theme and the hook–the things you really should be talking about.

But at this conference, I wasn’t a mess. I’ve pitched before over the years. This was just the first time I was ready, really ready to sell a completed book.

I had two pitch appointments with editors scheduled for the second day of the conference.

And then something perhaps lucky or providential happened the morning of my appointments. I went in to the tail end of breakfast, and the silverware from the tables had all been cleared away. Except one table. One girl was sitting there, and I joined her. We chatted a bit, and I asked what kind of writing she did. She said, “No, I’m an agent.” I thought I knew what all the agents looked like, but she looked somewhat different from her picture, and I really had no inkling. So then she asked what kind of writing I did. And we had a nice, easy few-minutes conversation about literature. I did not try to pitch my book to her right then and there. It didn’t feel right. But I talked about how much effort I’d put into this complex beast of a dual-timeline plot I’d been trying to master and how I’d invested years into trying to figure out how to tell the story I was passionate to tell. In those few minutes, I was impressed with her knowledge of the genre I write in, and she told me other writers  and books to check out; she really knew the market.

So later, I checked with the person managing all the agent appointments to see if this agent had any opening left. I was given her last appointment of the day.

Which was awesome, because of the three, she tuned out to be the most enthusiastic.

All three appointments went very well-; the agents met my work with interest. For this pitch, I had a memorized pitch designed to hit all the points–but with one difference compared to ones in the past. I’d learned at a baby shower–of all places–the key to hooking others’ interest. Let me be honest, I was still groaning two months ago when anyone asked what me novel was about. Because I struggled with how to succinctly portray it.

Over the years, I’ve tried many angles. I’ve tried to talk about the two marriages in the book, the two generations of the family, the issue of infidelity, the concept of family secrets, family curses… It’s all in my book. But two months ago, I was asked by people I’d just met to explain my book.  I instinctively knew to default to one aspect of my book when I suspected the audience to be the hardest sell: I led with the house as the main character. That is my title after all: Still House. The moment I said, “My story is about a house that attracts two different generations of the same family, and the house spills their secrets,” the listeners leaned in, pupils dilated, saying “oooh.”

So that is what I took to lead my pitch.

In the end, two of the three agents asked me to follow up by sending first chapters. And the one who did not was really very helpful and generous, going out of her way to encourage me. Though she was looking for novels that are lighter–more like beach reads–she made a point to tell me she’d read my opening the previous evening, before she knew it was mine, and told me it was the “most compelling” of all the other novel openings presented. She made a point to let me know how polished my writing and professional presentation of myself were. She could have just ended that appointment early and had some down time. But instead, she chatted and offered some tips to find the kind of agent I need.

The two agents who were interested in reading my first chapters were both attentive and inquisitive–really asking insightful questions about the inner working of my plot. I think I succeeded each time to be conversational, not resorting to the halting words of someone painfully spewing line after line of a planned speech. I finally had gotten comfortable enough in telling my story that I could field questions I’d not prepared without panicking and feeling overwhelmed.  And I left with each of the agents’ cards and the specifics on what to send for their next round of consideration.

All-in-all, I considered that conference time well-spent.

So now I send out those chapters and wait…


Other Posts:

The Ink They Left On Me: Writers Anne Lamott and Tracy Chevalier

Finding an Editor: Genre Matters (And sometimes, maybe you just have to do it yourself!

How Do You Change a Negative Classroom Atmosphere or Create a Positive One in the First Place?

18 Things I Didn’t Do This Summer (Is Summer Mom Guilt A Thing?)

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